A beer garden in Oakland, Calif., called Brotzeit celebrates the Bavarian tradition of the same name, which means “second breakfast.” This may include a fresh pretzel, some sausage and a wheat beer. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Come summer (and what is Memorial Day weekend but the unofficial start of summer?), the impulse is to move outdoors. The draw is open air. For those of us who live where the winters are cold and urban, we’ll take outdoors any way we can, whether balcony or beach, city park or ballpark, rooftop or sidewalk cafe.
Haul out the shorts, pop on the shades, wriggle the bare feet in the grass or sand. Only one more thing is necessary for utter relaxation: beer.
This is not to say that beer is better for outdoor drinking than wine. Rosé, for one, seems to have been invented for consuming in the bright sunlight. But occasionally, certain conditions simply cry out for beer. The ballpark is beer territory. So is the beach. Memorial Day weekends in particular call for a celebratory brew.
While I am ordinarily one to call for moderation, a summer holiday seems an occasion to enjoy beer pretty much around the clock, though not necessarily continuously. Just pick your moment.
Me? I like to get an early start, say 10:30 or 11 a.m. While a morning beer may seem excessive, allow me to cite the Bavarian tradition of the brotzeit, or second breakfast. This late-morning pick-me-up may include some cheese and bread, or preferably a fresh pretzel, some sausage, perhaps some long white radishes and a wheat beer. On a holiday weekend, make it a wake-me-up.
In Oakland, Calif., where a lovely beer garden that’s actually called Brotzeit looks out over a marina, I would happily start my day with a König Ludwig hefeweizen, the leading Bavarian style of wheat beer, a cloudy gold in the glass with aromas of cloves, fresh yeast and sweet malt. Or as an alternative, I may drink an Andechs dunkelweizen, a dark wheat beer with an aroma of ripe bananas and a touch of chocolate.
Aside from their liveliness, these beers share a necessary characteristic for outdoor drinking, especially if you are in it for the long haul. They are relatively low in alcohol, 5.5 percent for the hefeweizen and 5.0 percent for the dunkelweizen.
Yes, you can find an appropriate time for your gnarly barley wines and imperial stouts. Those powerful brews, which can be upward of 10 percent alcohol, are better for sipping in front of a winter’s fire. Not so much in the sun, where the pleasure is in the drinking, not in dainty tastes.
My favorite styles of beer tend to be lower in alcohol, under 6.0. For warm weather, they must be invigorating, with enough flavor and aroma to capture and hold the attention while refreshing the mouth and inviting the next sip.
Few beers fit these criteria better than good pilsner, with its brilliant bitterness that snaps the palate to attention and its dry refreshing aftertaste. It’s a great lunchtime brew and, as I’ve insisted for years, the perfect ballpark beer, especially for an early afternoon game. Not the vapid mass-market imitations that purport to be pilsners but are really diluted and dull, but any number of craft expressions. Some favorites of mine include Schlafly from St. Louis, Victory Prima Pils from Downingtown, Pa., and Brooklyn Pilsner.
Imported pilsners can be great if they are fresh. I’ve always like Jever pilsner on a hot day, and recently I found a Pilsner Urquell in a 16-ounce can with its Czech packaging, labeled Plzensky Prazdroj. No, I can’t pronounce it, but it sure was good.
Beer is easily enjoyed without paraphernalia, which can make outdoor wine-drinking cumbersome, especially for picnics. You can bring proper glassware for beer if you like, but why burden yourself? Beer bottles and cans can be their own drinking vessels. Just have a cooler to keep them cold. Of course, if you are staking out an outdoor place at a bar or restaurant, you don’t even need to think about that.
Recently, on clear, sunny Thursday midafternoon in London, I noticed many corner pubs where crowds had spilled out onto the street, pint glasses in hand.
Some people were smoking, yes, which is illegal indoors. But many others were simply enjoying the fresh weather. I felt compelled to join in, particularly as I love English beer styles, especially when they are cask-conditioned ales.
These cask ales are old-fashioned brews, carbonated not by injecting kegs with carbon dioxide, as is the case with most draft beers today, but naturally, in the cask, by yeast transforming sugar into alcohol with a byproduct of carbon dioxide that provides the fizz. Some fizz anyway.
The carbonation in cask-conditioned ales is exceedingly gentle, which is why many people tasting one for the first time think the beer is flat. This gentle carbonation actually gives the beer a beautiful purity and creamy texture.
I love no beer more than a cask-conditioned ale, whether a mild bitter, a malty porter or an English-style India Pale Ale, made without the ungainly piney, grapefruit flavor of American hops.
For a full day of outdoor drinking, however, make mine a bitter, around 4 percent alcohol. Perfect for sitting at a sidewalk table (or standing, as they do in London) and watching the world go by. Many good beer bars in the United States have at least one or two cask-conditioned selections.
After you’ve finished a bitter or two, it’s late afternoon. Perhaps it’s time to eat again. One of my favorite outdoor places in New York for beer and food is the beer garden at Loreley on the Lower East Side.
Aside from the excellent sausages and schnitzels, Loreley serves a nice selection of Kölsch, one of my favorite styles of beers, on tap. Kölsch, with its delicately bitter flavors, light carbonation and subtle fruitiness, is like a slightly more complex pilsner.
I find Kölsch particularly refreshing, and American brewers seem to have taken recent interest in the style. Schlafly and Captain Lawrence in Elmsford, N.Y., make good versions, but the German Kölsches are still the best. Look for Reissdorf, Gaffel and Sünner, all from the city of Cologne, Germany, where the tradition originated.
The sun is going down, and it’s been a long day. The taste buds are possibly fatigued, and you need something to awaken them. May I suggest the pleasure of a gose? This style is wonderfully odd in so many ways. It’s a tart wheat beer spiked typically with coriander and salt, and occasionally lime or lemon. It’s powerfully thirst-quenching and absolutely delicious.
The style is identified with the German city of Leipzig, and good German goses come from Bayerischer Bahnhof and Ritterguts. But American craft brewers like Westbrook and Sixpoint make excellent versions, too.
It’s nighttime now, and because you’ve paced yourself, it feels as if you’re just beginning. But you know better, so you want to keep it light. Full Sail Brewery makes an excellent selection of beers labeled Session, after the beer lovers’ term for brews low enough in alcohol to be consumed during a long drinking session. The Session lineup includes a crisp lager and balanced I.P.A. They come in squat bottles that look awfully cute by candlelight.
As midnight approaches, it’s time to think about calling it a night. But a last round is in order. Why not a beer black as night? An Irish stout or English porter, that is. Guinness is often disregarded because of its ubiquity, but if on draft and poured skillfully by a good bartender, it is thick and toasty, yet light and graceful, and not, as many people believe, high in alcohol.
I love English porter, with its coffee, chocolate, malty flavors. It, too, is not high in alcohol. St. Peter’s Old-Style Porter and Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter are both excellent versions.
Now, get some sleep. You’ve earned it.